I read a lot of resumes. And I spent a lot of time perfecting my resume. As it turns out, I actually know a lot about resumes. (This was surprising to me, too.) Because it’s job hunting season, I thought I might throw out a few helpful tips (and pet peeves) when it comes to polishing your finest asset. (Other than your shoes.)
- Perfection is Important. I love the episode of How I Met Your Mother in which Lily announces that Marshall is printing 600 new copies of his resume because he misspelled “detail-oriented.” Your resume is probably the first thing a prospective employer is going to see of your work. If it’s sloppy, if it’s poorly spaced, if it’s misspelled, or if it’s in a funky font that employer is going to immediately throw your resume in the “reject” pile. I know this may seem unfair. After all, what if you’re dyslexic? What if you have poor depth perception? I don’t know that about you. What I do know is you should have gotten your resume proofread. A hiring manager is not going to waste her time deciphering sloppiness. Sloppy resume = sloppy person. And there are 300 other people who took the time to do it right. You need to do it right. Edit, edit, edit, and then hand it to someone who cares and let them go through it. Hand it to someone else and see what their immediate reaction is. Polish is everything.
- No Clutter: Make your resume neat and easy to read. The font needs to be big enough that no one needs a magnifying glass to read it, but not so big that it wastes space. The only exception to this is your name. Your name should be nice and big with nothing around it. There needs to be clear spacing between the lines, and the sections should be laid out in an easy to read format so that a recruiter can see the clear difference between “education” and “experience.” And in the name of all that’s holy, use a standard font. I have seen Curlz MT on my desk and cringed.
- No White Space. I HATE white space on a resume. As a rule, your resume should only be one page, with limited exceptions, since chances are good an employer won’t read that second page anyway. So use that page wisely. Do you know what I think when I see white space? “Well, this person clearly has no experience. Look at all that wasted space!” Many of the templates that come with word processors use a big white stripe down the side that only has your headers in it. Avoid these like the plague. They are just one big waste of space.
- Vivid Verbs. When describing what you did at previous jobs, use good action words in short statements. “Drafted memos, assisted at hearings, presented two papers at such-and-such conference, trained 50 employees, etc.” Be as vivid as possible in order to show what types of skills you’re comfortable using. Also, choose all past tense or all present tense. Switching tenses is not recommended.
- Order. Put everything from most recent to least recent. I want to see the job/education you just left right away, not where you started out. When it comes to deciding whether to put your education or experience first, choose the one that you’ve done more of. So if you’re just graduating from school and have a good GPA and great extracurriculars, put that on top, and put your experience on the bottom. Have you been in the working world for a while or have you had more/better experience in the working world than in the educational world? Put that at the top of your resume. The farther down a hiring manager scans, the less she’s really focused. You only get seven seconds to make an impression. Top to middle of your resume needs to be the most interesting in order to make it to the “read again later” pile.
- Put Their Words in Your Mouth. Do you know why human resource departments write job descriptions? First, to cover their asses with the EEOC. Second, because the skills in the job description are the skills they are actively seeking. Tailor your resume to use those words. Some major search organizations just use SEOs to scan resumes and if you don’t meet a certain number of keywords, your resume never even gets seen by a real person. There are hundreds of people applying for this job, maybe even thousands. Use the company’s words to describe yourself. If you do, one of two things will happen: Your resume will subconciously resonate with the recruiter because they’re hearing themselves talk, or the recruiter will appreciate that you took the time to display the skills they need. It’s a win/win.
- Write a Cover Letter: I cannot stress this enough. Every time you send out a resume, you MUST send out a cover letter. No exceptions. Your resume is the place where you summarize what you’ve done. Your cover letter is the place where you apply that experience to someone else’s workplace. “In my time at GE, I created a new scrap recycling project that saved 2 million dollars per year.” This is your chance to make your accomplishments very clear and very desirable. It’s also the time to sell yourself as a person, especially if you’re trying to move long distance. “After spending three months in Seattle during college, I found that I enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of the city, and knew that I wanted to live and work there, while getting to make a difference in the field of biotechnology.” And please, PLEASE tailor your cover letter to each place that you apply. Show that you’ve really done your homework.
If you remember nothing else, remember that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And your resume is your first chance to impress someone you’ve never met before. Find out what’s important to that company and throw everything you’ve got at it.